Aaliyah Edwards is back in action, but the Mystics lose to the Aces

Aaliyah Edwards is back in action, but the Mystics lose to the Aces

Aaliyah Edwards shared an important directive after her former University of Connecticut teammates Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd said they would be in Washington for the Mystics’ game on Saturday afternoon.

“Make sure you wear a good fit, because I know you’re going to be on TV,” Edwards recalled telling them. “Represent well.”

Bueckers wore the same black-and-gold No. 24 jersey as Edwards and joined Fudd, a former high school star at St. John’s, when Edwards returned from a three-game absence with a back injury. The No. 6 pick in the WNBA draft impressed, and Washington jumped out to a two-point lead in the fourth quarter before falling 88-77 to the Las Vegas Aces, the two-time defending champions, at Entertainment and Sports Arena.

Edwards came off the bench to contribute nine points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes, but her real test came on defense, where she regularly matched up with center A’ja Wilson, the two-time WNBA MVP.

“It was pretty cool because it’s someone you’ve seen on TV,” Edwards said. “… I aimed my buckets at her. … She aimed her buckets at me. It was just a good competitive game. I love that game.”

Wilson entered the game as the WNBA leader in points, rebounds and blocks per game. But against a combination of Edwards and Myisha Hines-Allen, Wilson missed her first six shots and didn’t score until the third quarter. She finished with a season-low 11 points to go along with nine rebounds and five assists. (Hines-Allen finished with 14 points but sat out the final four minutes due to injury.)

Not long after entering the game, Edwards boxed out Wilson and grabbed a rebound. That was the start of a possession that ended with one of Stefanie Dolson’s three 3-pointers in the first quarter.

Soon after, Wilson picked up Edwards at the top of the key. A left-to-right crossover gave Wilson an opening to drive, but Edwards recovered and contested the shot with Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who got the block. On the next possession, Edwards became a two-time defensive player of the year. The 21-year-old took two hard dribbles before sinking.

“She’s such a dominant player — taller, bigger, stronger than me, so it was a bit of a challenge for me,” Edwards said. “I like challenges.”

Washington went 10 for 16 from three-point range in the first half. Much of that came from Dolson, who finished with a team-high 23 points and made five of six attempts. She has scored 14 or more points in each of her past five games after doing so just once in her first 13.

“She’s clearly in a good rhythm,” coach Eric Thibault said. ‘I try not to say too much to her. That’s like a baseball player on a streak: you just don’t say much and keep it moving.

Washington (4-15) extended its lead to 11 points in the second quarter. But even without Wilson contributing much, the Aces (10-6) had a robust offense. Jackie Young had 26 points and Chelsea Gray finished with 22; they combined for 16 of 21 field goals. Young’s jumper cut Washington’s lead to 52-46 at halftime. But the Mystics, who scored 28 and 24 points in the first two quarters, managed just 17 and eight in the last two.

“They made our shots a little bit harder in the second half,” Dolson said. “And I’m not sure we read the defense.”

Gray made a pair of threes as part of a 14-7 Aces run into halftime, punctuated by a Kiah Stokes layup that gave Vegas a 60-59 lead and prompted a Washington timeout. Edwards made five straight to put Washington back ahead, but with less than a second left in the third quarter, Gray was fouled on a 3-pointer. The Aces guard made all three of her free throws, and Washington went into the final period ahead by two.

Alysha Clark, a former Mystics player, erased that lead with a layup 19 seconds into the final quarter, and the sputtering Mystics would no longer lead. The Aces held Washington to 4-of-13 shooting in the fourth quarter. That left the Mystics with two straight losses and heading into a streak of four straight road games that begins Tuesday in Los Angeles. They’ll see the Aces again on Thursday in Las Vegas.

“Vegas made some changes. They got a little smaller. They tried to push us to look at mismatches a little bit more, and I think we got bogged down in that,” Thibault said. “And then, more often than I would like, we broke the action when we called a set, and that didn’t work out so well.”